Roger William Gilman studied music, worked for NATO (military intelligence), attended experimental college (Fairhaven), earned several graduate degrees from the University of Chicago and was dean of a liberal arts college. He is an author, poet, philosophy professor and poetry editor.

Cento Poetry

I create Cento poems that use the landscape of the Pacific Northwest as a vocabulary for exploring the interface of human and nonhuman nature. They are imagistic and musical in a subtle – meditative and conversational way and show the influence of Roethke, Stafford, and Snyder.


Philosophy: My approach is that of a critical-idealist, or pragmatist in a cosmopolitan and hermeneutical mode. My main concerns are to understand scientific explanations, ethical responsibilities and human rights, and educational models that promote our full humanity.


My scholarly or lyrical essays focus on the nature and purpose of progressive education, mentoring relationships (not lecturing) to facilitate learning, student negotiated learning plans, interdisciplinary curriculum and experiential pedagogy (small seminars and lots of field, lab, and studio work, and more…

Recent Articles:

Climbing Mount Rainier

January 7, 2016 Poems, Poetry Comments Off on Climbing Mount Rainier


Along a log-clogged dry-rot trail
heavy-breath and feet I climb,
Stone-step streams, scramble scree
and faith thrust my legs across

chasms in the cliffs that dizzy
me so, I steady my head with my hand
as an eagle grips the crag with its claws.

Straggling and struggling I jungle
thru the green world toward the blue,
Not climbing to conquer but to lie
dreaming under peak-eating clouds
in a flower-filled rock-rimmed mountain meadow
Catching rare air and the distant view
of rivers and mountains without end,

seeing the forest in the trees.
We all have reasons for climbing.
I climb to see things whole.

Fairhaven Seminar on Reading and Writing Poetry

March 19, 2015 Uncategorized Comments Off on Fairhaven Seminar on Reading and Writing Poetry

Transcript of a Fairhaven College Seminar:

On Starting to Read and Write Poetry

(recorded and transcribed by Desmond Jagewon)*


Carol: All right people; lets get started.  We have a guest today — the poet Roger William Gilman.  Our topic is “How does one get started reading and writing poetry?”  What are the alternatives?


Roger: Thanks for the invite.  As a philosopher, I don’t often get to talk directly about reading and writing poetry.  The closest I usually get to these topics is in a philosophy of language course (talking about how metaphors make their meaning; and explaining how you can tell the truth by using a metaphorical or ironical sentence that is not literally true); or in a class on ethics (where we might consider, among other things, the question of moral limits on the responses to, or interpretations and uses of, a poem – or any other kind of artwork for that matter); or perhaps in a course on the philosophy of literature (where we might be considering the question: what is the contribution of consuming literary works to cultivating our humanity?).

… Continue Reading

Daniel Dennett’s Choice

November 22, 2014 Review Comments Off on Daniel Dennett’s Choice

daniel_dennett-02For thirty years Daniel C. Dennett has been creating a body of work that explores the relation of mind and brain.  Each part of his theory has provoked conversation and controversy along the way.  His general method of inquiry requires adopting “the intentional stance”; this orientation is one of those debatable objects in his tool kit. Traces of all the components of his model are visible in his most recent work. With his new book, Freedom Evolves, Daniel Dennett has written yet another surprising and controversial work. His previous books have drawn a mixed audience of professionals and lay readers, and this new work is meant to do the same. Dennett’s earlier notorious books includeBrainstorms (1978), Elbow RoomThe Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting (1984), The Intentional Stance (1987), Consciousness Explained (1991), and Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (1995).

Dennett’s general approach is to apply the empirical findings of neuroscience and the methods of evolutionary game theory to the … Continue Reading

Interpretive Strategies and the Meanings of Artworks: The Hermeneutical Situation

November 22, 2014 Poetics, Poetry Comments Off on Interpretive Strategies and the Meanings of Artworks: The Hermeneutical Situation


With a case study of ethical constraints on conflicting interpretations of poems and metaphors

By Roger William Gilman

Consisting of the introduction to a dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment

Of requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Chicago, 1985

Interpretive Strategies and the Mediation of Meaning: Dancing with Tears in My Eyes: The Hermeneutical Problem

I have been forced by what seems to be an unresolvable conflict of opinion among friends of mine to “turn” and examine, with deliberate thought and imagination, our shared goal of becoming serious students of new artworks.  Most of us in this group are painters or poets, composers or playwrights, actors or dancers.  Few are philosophers or critics.  Artworks have made us over into a self-conscious audience, … Continue Reading

The Nature and Value of a Liberal Education

September 26, 2014 Education, Essays Comments Off on The Nature and Value of a Liberal Education


A talk for the 50th Year Celebration of the Santa Fe campus of St. Johns College, October 2014

Roger William Gilman

We live in an era where students and their families in our nation have been forced to regard higher education as a consumer good, a personal, private investment in the student’s future life-style — one that pursues an individual view of happiness and well-being as a competition (for a credential) structured by the marketplace.   The alternative, common in our past, was to regard a liberal education as an investment in our neighbors and co-workers  . . . investment in decent and caring partners and parents, and persons with well-cultivated souls.  But now we have privatized almost everything in our lives. And funding of these private investments in ourselves has become a personal responsibility; the debt accrued for advanced education, for instance, is a private not public debt.  This implies that our society currently regards advanced education as a private value, not a public one.

But things might be even worse than this: some pundits claim that a broad and deep education across centuries and hemispheres of … Continue Reading

The Deanship of Roger William Gilman 2005-2013:

September 26, 2014 Education, Essays Comments Off on The Deanship of Roger William Gilman 2005-2013:

Personal notes on my experience leading Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies, Western Washington University


I learned of the open position for dean of Fairhaven College (at Western Washington University) in the fall of 2004 from a friend of mine who was a provost at another university. I was unaware of the opening until he called to say he had noticed the announcement in The Chronicle of Higher Education. He nominated me. I applied and was awarded the job. I began work in 2005. I had the privilege of being a member of the first class of students attending Fairhaven College recruited from outside the university of which Fairhaven is a part, beginning in 1969. The period from 1965 to 1975 was a tumultuous time of many countercultural movements in America, among them a Progressive College Reform Movement during which many new liberal arts colleges were founded with the purpose of offering liberal education in new ways (with new curricula and pedagogies). [See my article: “Fairhaven College and the Progressive Curriculum,” in The College Curriculum: a reader, edited by Joseph DeVitis, Peter Lang, 2013 pp. 143-167. Appendix 1] My experience as a student helping to invent Fairhaven College in its early days led to my lifelong interest in the philosophy of education.

After the “Fairhaven Experience,” my graduate education at the University of Chicago further deepened my interest in interdisciplinary learning. Its committee structure that crossed departmental disciplines offered me the chance to study the history and philosophy of the life sciences, and the relationships among ethical, political and aesthetic value judgments. My research and teaching career continued along this line of development. I wrote philosophy and poetry. Later I recognized how much my habits of learning were due to my early experience at Fairhaven. So I was thrilled with the prospect of returning to lead Fairhaven College — a community of learning that had fostered my development – in order to nurture the community that had nurtured me. [Appendix 2]

At Fairhaven I had been a student activist involved in the debates that would shape the early policies and procedures, if not the mission and goals, of the College. I had kept in touch with some of my college mentors, so I knew of the on-going debates and issues involved in the subsequent development of the college. I knew of some of its problems and opportunities. And my kids had just graduated from high school; it was a good time for a personal transition — to take on new challenges, to stretch my skills, and apply what I’d learned thus far in life.

I brought to the candidacy for dean my experience teaching in three universities, leading as chair of a philosophy department, and administering as associate dean of general education and assessment. I had thought a lot, though written little, about alternative modes of creating opportunities for liberating and empowering learning. My position as dean would offer me the chance to deepen those ideas and to experiment with educational structures and methods that might better foster critical and creative thinking — activities that address the student as a whole person with multiple adults roles to prepare for (as supervisor or employee, as citizen and neighbor, as partner and parent). I welcomed the chance to contribute to the improvement of an already great college in its pursuit of excellence. And so I started work full of excitement and hope.

I soon discovered that the deanship of Fairhaven College is more complex than the usual deanship at a more conventional college (at this time in the history of higher education in North America). Because Fairhaven is intentionally a unique community it unavoidably has a semi- autonomous psychological space in the university which is its host. It has its own culture. In its founding days, Fairhaven’s campus was a significant distance (literally cow-pastures away from the main university campus) not only geographically, but a political and psychological distance as well from Western. Because of this intentionally thin relationship, not only must Fairhaven’s

dean serve as the academic leader and administrative manager, as faculty relationship negotiator,

… Continue Reading

Cento: the art and craft of quilting poems

September 26, 2014 Poetry Comments Off on Cento: the art and craft of quilting poems

Roger William Gilman

It is Adam’s Curse that “a line may take us hours to quilt; and yet if it does not seem but a moment’s thought, our stitching and unstitching will have been for naught.” W.B. Yeats

The Raw and the Cooked: writing cento

Cento poems are like quilts. I quilt poems. “Cento,” you say. What’s that?”  Good question.  I hadn’t heard of cento myself until recently.  In answer to the question let me offer a metaphor and several examples to help refine a definition and build an explanation of why we all – poetry lover or not — should care about cento.  Then I’d like to draw out implications of this form of poetry — concerning the linguistics, psychology, politics, and ethics of reading and writing cento.

Cento poems are quilts made of salvaged scraps of cloth — words, phrases, lines — from other sources of writing, most of which are other poems.  Cento, however, refers more to the process of construction than to the source of building materials.  Think for example of the collating note-taking practice of Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project as a way of building a text … Continue Reading

Finding the Law of One’s Own Freedom: Negative and Positive Freedom in the Fairhaven College Community

September 26, 2014 Education, Philosophy 1 Comment

Finding the Law of One’s Own Freedom: Negative and Positive Freedom in the Fairhaven College Community

FairhavenCollege-mainbuilding_webThis “manifesto” was written in 1970 (?) when I was just home from service in Germany with NATO and had enrolled in Fairhaven College which at the time was just a couple of years old.  Its curriculum, policies and procedures were still under construction.  For those of us who were students this was a chaotic circumstance under which to experience our first real freedom: we had to conduct independent research and design our own majors without any real models yet in place.  During the year, in meeting after meeting, the students, faculty and staff tried to hammer out rules for this emerging learning community. But we seemed to be spinning our wheels.


I typed this “manifesto” on mimeograph paper and wrote it under the pseudonym, Henry Burlingame (because I was currently reading John Barth’s The Sot Weed Factor and intended to become a philosopher and poet just like the protagonist of the novel, Henry Burlingame).  Late at night I slipped copies of the essay into everyone’s mailboxes up on the third floor of “the big house.” … Continue Reading

Come Together, Right Now, Over This

September 26, 2014 Education, Philosophy Comments Off on Come Together, Right Now, Over This
  • seminar_class_outside_web

Here’s something to celebrate, even in these hard times.  Fairhaven College (of Western Washington University) is graduating its 40th class of students this spring, in June.  The college family and all its friends are marking this anniversary May 14th and 15th (2010) on campus.  Alums will gather from all over the continent, even from overseas, to honor this vital and intimate institution that nurtures their values and careers.   Even those who are not graduates of Fairhaven relish its accomplishments and honor its contributions to our community.

Fairhaven graduates, now scattered around the globe, have not only distinguished themselves as doctors and lawyers, scientists and scholars, artists, writers, and musicians, as social workers and activists, teachers, midwives, and farmers; they have also become exemplary neighbors and citizens, life partners and parents.  They have learned not just how to earn a good living, but how to lead a good life. … Continue Reading

What is a Liberal Education?

September 22, 2014 Education, Philosophy Comments Off on What is a Liberal Education?

In The College Curriculum: a reader, ed. by Joseph DeVitis, 2013, Peter Lang: New York, Berlin, Oxford, pp. 7-13

ISBN 978-1-4331-1789-3

Roger William Gilman, Dean of Fairhaven College                                                    

Western Washington University

In my role as academic dean of a college offering students a ‘liberal education,’ I am often asked by new students what this means.  What is a liberal education?

Our students are not alone; most people asking this question are genuinely puzzled by its meaning; and I find that the few who do have some ideas about the nature and purpose of a liberal education often hold misconceptions.  It’s not just our students who want to know: potential employers of our students, donors to the university, state legislators, trustees, and even colleagues in our colleges sometimes wonder about the nature, purpose, and value of liberal education. … Continue Reading